Be What You Already Are

As I was lying around my parents’ house this weekend, trying to recover the ability to eat solid foods, we watched several ’90s movies on VHS that my mom had bought at a yard sale. In between bouts of some Beethoven sequel and The Little Rascals, my parents brought out a video letter I made for my grandparents when I was thirteen.

(I’ll let you guess which was most painful and awkward.)

In the video letter, I talked to my grandparents, filmed my dad tickling my mom and my mom pretending to hit my dad, showed off the tricks I had taught my parakeet, played a piano recital piece, and demonstrated how I could play a duet on the flute with myself, with the help of my handy tape recorder.

I played duets with myself by recording one part and playing it back while I played the second. That is how lonely I was at thirteen.

I also played tennis alone by hitting a ball against the house.

I generally don’t like to think about my early teen years. I squirmed the whole time I watched the video letter. There I was, in all my thirteen-year-old glory, my hair messy and my clothes baggy and ill-fitting and my glasses enormous, recorded for forever and played back in front of my family and my husband (who lived in Texas during the worst of the teen years).

But the funny thing is, as embarrassed as I was watching the video, I know I didn’t see myself like that then. At that point in my life, I was rather blissfully unaware of myself and of the teenager’s desperate need to fit in. I hadn’t gotten the memo yet. But I would, soon. In the year that followed the filming of that video letter, I lost my best friend after a slow drift apart (namely hers–toward more popular friends). I was on the verge of becoming intensely self-conscious, but I wasn’t quite there yet.

The video ended, and I laughed it off, and everyone seemed fine. No one seemed to notice how painfully awkward I had been–or, they didn’t care. Jesse thought it was cute. I realized that I was the only one who cared about my hair or my dorky shirts.

Later that weekend, we “interviewed” my grandmother on video, recording some of her memories. At the end of our interview, we asked if she had any closing advice. She thought for just a moment and said, “Just be what you already are.”

Just be what you already are.

How I wish I could rewind, visit my thirteen-year-old self and deliver this advice. Just be what you already are.

How I wish I could save her the years of trying to change herself, of trying to fit in. Getting contacts and straightening her hair and fussing with makeup and buying new clothes and smiling with her mouth closed because she doesn’t like her teeth. How I wish I could tell her, the people you’re trying to impress don’t care, and in fifteen years you won’t care about them.

Because the people who really matter think the frizzy hair is kind of cute.

This is a lesson that continually surprises me, one I don’t quite trust to be true yet. But I hope with time I will keep learning it. Until then, I’ll repeat it to myself, a mantra: Just be what you already are.

Erin BondComment